Why Japanese Used Mini Trucks Are Popular in USA

Last Updated on 9月 29, 2022 by Carusedjp

Two years ago, pickup sales in America surpassed passenger car sales for the first time ever. And this iconic American staple is only getting more and more popular.

But there’s one type of pickup that’s been steadily gaining popularity over the last century while staying under the radar. Introducing: the Japanese mini trucks.

These compact, affordable vehicles are complete opposites to the huge trucks taking over the US.

Mini trucks are small, slow, usually imported, and aren’t very comfortable. Most available models are also very old. Nonetheless, there are still thousands of used mini trucks for sale nationwide.

Why are these basic vehicles still so popular, despite their limited availability? The simplest answer is that Japanese mini trucks are used in a completely different context to American pickups. They serve a different purpose which a large American pickup never could.

Read on to find out how these vehicles became so popular, and why they’re staying that way into the 2020s.

What Is a Mini Truck?


What exactly counts as a mini truck? It’s not just a small pickup truck.

The classification “mini truck” is more specific. It refers to 2-door imported Japanese pickup trucks. Also called Kei trucks, which means “light” in Japanese, these vehicles are the furthest you could get from an American pickup.

So how did they become popular in the USA?

How the Mini Truck Revolution Began

Mini trucks slowly made their way over to the States soon after they were first manufactured. But it wasn’t until the 70s that the vehicles really made their mark on the American scene.

With the gas crisis of 1973 hitting everyone hard, people needed a cheaper truck option. Not only were Kei trucks cheaper to fill up, but they were also cheaper to buy and maintain. This made the transition a no-brainer for many businesses.

Mini Trucks Vs. Pickup Trucks Today

Mini trucks – as the name suggests – are far smaller than American pickups. It’s not just that they only seat two people. The interior itself is far smaller than a 2-seater American pickup.

That’s all to do with their history. “Kei” is a specific classification of vehicles in Japan that limits the dimensions. Originally, these were:

  • 9.2 feet long
  • 3.3 feet wide
  • 6.6 feet high

This kept costs down back in the 50s and 60s when they were first built. The dimensions have increased slightly since then, but they’re still very limiting.

Their small size has a knock-on effect on the overall specifications of the vehicle. Mini trucks generally have much lower horsepower than the average American pickup. Therefore, their top speed is also lower.

Japanese mini trucks are the opposite of luxurious vehicles. Where American pickups are designed to be comfortable, spacious, and come with the latest tech, mini trucks aren’t. Manufacturers deliberately kept the design simple.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that mini trucks aren’t sounding too good right about now! But the key to remember is that mini trucks aren’t meant for residential use.

Where pickups used to be designed for cargo, they’re now often used by families and for suburban commutes. Mini trucks on the other hand have stayed true to their roots, and are still all about functionality. Therefore, they’re bought by businesses, not really individual consumers.

Why Mini Trucks Are Popular Today


Kei trucks are hugely popular with many small-to-medium-sized businesses today. Here are the top reasons why.

Purchase Price

Kei truck manufacturers design them to be affordable. Even a brand new Kei truck will put you out thousands of dollars less than an American pickup.

This makes them an affordable investment for businesses. They’re cheap to buy, so even brand new businesses can invest in a few of them at once.

Availability of Second-Hand Mini Trucks

Even better, most mini trucks in the US are second-hand. That’s due to complicated import regulations that affect the age of foreign cars that can be legally driven on US roads.

Without going into all the details, it means a Kei truck that’s over 25 years old is the easiest to buy and use. So these are the trucks most common in the US market.

Many of these simple vehicles still run well after a quarter of a century. And due to their age, they’re incredibly affordable.

Better Miles to the Gallon

Whether bought first or second hand, it’s not just the purchase price that’s cheap. Mini trucks are super cheap to run.

Their small engines and lightweight bodies help them achieve very good miles to the gallon. Even a second-hand, lightweight American pickup can’t compete with their rates.

For a business that’s operating several vehicles, that adds up to huge savings over the fiscal year.

Affordable Maintenance

The biggest advantage of simple design is simple maintenance.

Kei trucks, especially the older models popular in the US, are products of big-name manufacturers. That means their parts are easily accessible and affordable across the country.

Therefore, routine mini truck maintenance and unexpected repairs are both budget-friendly. That makes them not just an inexpensive investment upfront, but cheap to run long-term.

Compact Design

The small frame of a Kei truck, almost impossible to find in American pickups, makes it a more versatile machine. In day-to-day business usage, it is easier to drive and park.

While this may not be such a pressing issue in rural areas, it’s a game changer in big cities. Being able to pull up for a delivery or find a parking space on a New York City street isn’t always doable for a large pickup. But maneuvering and driving mini trucks is as easy as a small car.

Off-Road Capabilities

While they’re as small as a car, they have more applications. Despite their cheap design, they have impressive off-road functionality. Where a car would struggle on the uneven terrain of a construction site or a national park, mini trucks take it all in their stride.

Many mini trucks are even 4-wheel drive for this express purpose. That makes them almost as hardy as an American pickup, for a fraction of the size and price.

Quiet to Drive

Traditional American pickups run on V6 or more often V8 engines. These powerful machines are beneficial, but also hard to miss with how loud they are.

By contrast, Kei trucks run very quietly. That means they can drive around quiet areas without causing too much disturbance.

Of course, they pay for this with reduced horsepower, so they’re not ideal for everyone. But many businesses happily trade off the engine power for quiet.

Functionality

The popularity of pickups is likely due to how versatile they are. Whether you need to chuck a surfboard in the back or move sandbags on a construction site, a pickup is the best vehicle for the job.

Kei trucks are popular for the same reasons. They’re just as versatile as a pickup but more compact and affordable.

Easy to Customize

As if they weren’t versatile enough already, mini trucks are easy to change. Converting the bed to a dump truck bed is relatively easy, as the base design is so simple.

Other popular modifications include installing seats to transport people, like a golf cart. This is useful for resorts that need to move guests and their suitcases, as well as for tours of national parks.

Some individuals have even converted the bed into a custom RV!

Recognizable Design

While they’re subtle because they’re quiet, a Kei truck is actually quite recognizable. If a business is buying a fleet of small transport vehicles, they’ll favor one that will get them noticed. Mini trucks draw attention with their unique shape, which helps a business’ advertising.

Cult Popularity

Finally, mini trucks are so popular because of their cult following. Being such an iconic vehicle, many enthusiast groups have popped up all over the country dedicated to continuing their legacy. For that reason, they won’t be dying out any time soon.

Popular Uses for Mini Trucks

All of these factors make mini trucks the ideal vehicle for many situations. Here are a few examples of specific groups that keep used Kei trucks for sale so popular in the US.

Construction Companies

Mini trucks’ affordability and compact size make them ideal for many construction needs.

On small construction sites, businesses have often converted mini trucks to small dump trucks. They can move medium-sized loads of heavy materials like sand and gravel around the site with ease.

Large sites where standard dump trucks carry these loads are used as convenient transport vehicles. They can move materials such as wood and metal around the site with ease as the need arises. Their small size makes it easy for them to reach awkward spaces that heavy machinery can’t.

Delivery Services

As a delivery vehicle, a mini truck is far cheaper to run than a traditional American pickup. If a company’s deliveries can all be handled by a mini truck, it’s definitely the best option. Mini trucks work as delivery vehicles for all kinds of goods, such as:

  • Online shopping deliveries
  • Restaurant food deliveries
  • Local furniture deliveries
  • Bicycle or motorbike order deliveries

As long as the goods are well secured, a mini truck is just as useful as any other traditional delivery vehicle.

Landscapers

Mini trucks are incredibly popular with landscapers and gardeners. This is true for those on small and large grounds.

For a local one-man operation, a mini truck is the perfect size. It can carry everything they need from tools to bags of soil. Its affordability makes it the best choice for a small gardening business that travels from client to client.

Mini trucks also work well on large grounds that require constant landscaping. Parks, gardens, and private estates all use mini trucks. They help move landscaping gear and materials around the grounds.

Their quiet design also means they keep disruption to a minimum. And their tight turning circle is ideal for maneuvering on small paths and into tight spaces.

Their impressive off-road capabilities extend their application to national parks. They allow rangers to reach isolated areas. At the same time, they are quiet enough to keep wildlife disturbance to a minimum.

Hunters

Being quiet to drive comes in particularly handy for hunters. Going off-road to approach prey while staying undetected is something many larger pickups can’t pull off.

Once they’ve hit their target, a mini truck’s design is also perfect for taking the haul back home. The bed is low to the ground which makes it easy to load larger animals onto. And the bed’s size is ideally suited to these needs.

Furniture Movers

Just like a furniture delivery, a mini truck is a convenient size for moving furniture. Moving companies may offer mini trucks as an option for smaller residential moves. They also come in handy for businesses that need to move equipment between locations.

Buy Japanese Mini Trucks

If all of these pros sound perfect for you, you might be interested in buying Japanese mini trucks. But considering the age of most of the trucks on the market, it is difficult to know if you’re buying a reliable vehicle.

That’s where it’s best to buy through a trusted dealer. We always have a variety of used mini trucks for sale, whatever your mini truck budget, and each advert is complete with all the information you need about the vehicle.

Check out the latest import mini trucks available near you today.

Share this article:
Previous

Popular Japanese Used Cars and JDM that are Importable to the US

A Guide to the 2nd Generation Honda Acty Truck

Next

Leave a Comment

Used Car Selections For USACLOSE